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The Media Briefing: An interview with United Business Media CEO David Levin

October 11th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Business, Editors' pick

The Media Briefing talks to United Business Media’s CEO David Levin about paywalls, the future of B2B publishing businesses and the importance of live events:

In a B2B world, you’re only as good as your audience says you are. We have to listen to the audience and say “We’re not trying to provide generic news”. In fact most titles whose headline is “something news” or “something week” are structurally going to struggle, by definition.

Where can they add value? We have 20 paid content initiatives where people are saying “we can add value” not by offering the same content as somebody else but by offering discrete content which is different and/or views or data adjacent to it.

Full interview on The Media Briefing at this link…

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Reuters: Google CEO raises doubts about Murdoch’s online pay walls

September 18th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Online Journalism

Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, yesterday questioned Rupert Murdoch’s plans to put general news content behind pay walls at some of the News Corp titles, Reuters reports.

General news publishers would find it hard to charge for their content because too much is available for free elsewhere, Schmidt argued, speaking via video link to the Royal Television Society audience in Cambridge.

“[M]y guess is for niche and specialist markets … it will be possible to do it but I think it is unlikely that you will be able to do it for all news.”

Full post at this link…

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Magazine news: PPA chief steps down; BSME shortlist announced

September 15th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Magazines

Two bits of news from the last few days for the magazine publishing industry:

  1. Lisa Burrow, Closer
  2. Sue James, Woman & Home
  3. Jeremy Langmead, Esquire
  4. Sue Peart, You Magazine
  5. Morgan Rees, Men’s Health
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Johnston Press’ ad revenues feel effects of recession

August 28th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Newspapers

Johnston Press has today reported half-year revenues of £218.6 million – down 25.4 per cent year-on-year.

Print advertising revenue fell by 33.5 per cent; while digital advertising revenues also declined – by 18.8 per cent.

The publisher’s revenue from employment advertising was down by 53.8 per cent, property ads by 54.2 per cent, motors by 29.3 per cent and from other classifieds by 11.5 per cent.

The company’s interim report said ad revenues were down 32.7 per cent in the first six months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008.

In an attempt to improve their digital recruitment sites and therefore their appeal to recruitment advertisers, Johnston Press has entered into a joint venture with Daily Mail & General Trust, giving them access to the latter’s Jobsite software.

The report also expresses the group’s struggle ‘to compete with the regional activities of the publicly funded BBC digital presence’, claiming that it ‘distorts the markets within which they operate through making the charging for news content extremely difficult’.

“The timing of the economic upturn remains uncertain but advertising revenues are demonstrating greater stability
and we expect the cyclical improvement when it comes to more than compensate any structural change. We will
maintain our focus on costs and look to secure operating efficiencies during the second half of the year,” said CEO John Fry in the report.

Yesterday the publisher celebrated success after it was announced that it had attracted the most unique users, to its network of regional newspaper websites, in the first six months of 2009.

The publisher, which is responsible for more than 323 websites, recorded 6,864,820 monthly unique users on average over the period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic’s six-monthly report for regional newspaper groups.

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Update on Wired Journalists’ new look; Publish2 claims it now has 20 per cent of all journalists in the US

As reported on the main site, the social network Wired Journalists is now looking rather different; it has been incorporated into Publish2, the social journalism venture based on a belief in the link economy. Since no terms of the deal were disclosed in the announcement, Journalism.co.uk was keen to know more. Publish2 CEO Scott Karp didn’t reveal the details of the agreement but added this statement:

“Creating a social network for our journalist community within P2 was always on our roadmap, and WiredJournalists presented an opportunity to buy instead of build. It was a great fit. WiredJournalists grew from nothing to more than 3,000 journalists in 18 months.

“The frontline web producers, reporters, and editors using Wired Journalists are exactly the journalists we’re bringing together at Publish2 to collaborate and share links with each other and their readers.

“With this deal, Publish2 now has the equivalent of 20 per cent of all journalists in the U.S, since launching less than a year ago.”

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The First Post: Murdoch’s ‘radical rethink’ for online news; announces $3.4bn loss

News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch announced yesterday that within a year the Times, the Sun, and the New York Post will all be charging for access to their websites.

“”Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good journalism,” he said yesterday as he announced a $3.4bn loss for News Corp, which owns 20th Century Fox, Fox News and Sky TV as well as newspapers.”

Full story at this link…

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MediaShift: What’s the future of cit-j photo agencies?

As we’ve documented on Journalism.co.uk, the citizen journalism photo agency, Demotix can boast numerous high profile photo-sale successes during recent global news events. Its industry recognition has grown fast since launch in September 2008, as it forms various collaborations with strong media brands.

But what do the experiences of earlier cit-j photo agencies signify for the chances of Demotix’s future expansion and financial growth? That’s what MediaShift’s Mark Glaser asks in a lengthy blog post published yesterday. He looks to Scoopt, the agency that shut its doors in February this year.

Scoopt, co-founder, Kyle MacRae casts doubts on Demotix’s future: “I’d say their chances of acquiring significant volumes of content with commercial value – where value is largely driven by timeliness – are slim to zero,” MacRae tells Glaser in an email.

But Turi Munthe, Demotix CEO would argue that his model is very different from Scoopt’s.

Full post at this link…

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Future: Digital ads going from strength-to-strength

July 30th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Advertising, Magazines

Specialist magazine publisher Future has reported a resilient and ‘healthy balance sheet’ in the face of recession with a 15 per cent increase in online advertising revenue in the nine months to June 30.

The company released an interim management statement today, which suggested that although print advertising revenues were down 8 per cent, this was offset by the growth in online advertising – resulting in a total fall of only 4 per cent.

Online ads represented 22 per cent, nearly a quarter, of total advertising revenue – up 19 per cent year-on-year – over the same period.

In the company’s interim report, CEO Stevie Spring said: “While it is premature to talk about a market recovery, there has been no deterioration in trading conditions since the half year.”

A third of the group’s revenue comes from its US operation and it capitalised on a favourable US exchange rate against the sterling with a 24 per cent stronger US dollar in the reported period.

As a result, the publisher had come out relatively unscathed through what it called ‘exceptionally challenging market conditions’, with an overall revenue decline of just 2 per cent, or 9 per cent calculated on a constant currency basis.

Publishing revenues

In the UK, which generates the remaining two thirds of the company’s income, publishing revenue, based on constant currency, was down 6 per cent. The fall in revenue was mainly due to a decline in PC gaming, personal computing and automotive titles, the report suggested.

In the same period, publishing revenues for the US operation fell 13 per cent, on a constant currency basis. The publisher blamed ‘greater exposure to generic advertising market volatility’ in the territory, particularly with regard to its digital business.

Future’s future

Future produces more than 80 newsstand magazines, 62 websites and 25 annual live events on special-interest topics, such as computer games, film, music and sport.

Spring, who according to paidContent:UK, ‘never talks down the health of the magazine industry’, was bullish about the future of the publisher:

“I am confident that when recovery comes, Future is well-positioned to benefit. We’ve continued to invest in both new products and new people and, more broadly, our strategy remains firmly on track. We are in the best shape we can be in for the mid-term,” he said.

Future’s annual results for the year to end of September will be announced on November 26.

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Opposition to BBC’s newspaper video-sharing plans grow (the links)

Journalism.co.uk feels like its gone back in time today – specifically to autumn last year when regional newspaper groups, unions and industry bodies were voicing unanimous opposition to the BBC’s plans to increase its local video news content.

Well, another year, another video plan – and more opposition.

Yesterday the corporation announced an agreement to share news video from four subject areas with the Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent websites. The clips will appear in a BBC-branded player and run alongside the papers’ own news coverage.

In the announcement, the corporation suggested it would extend the plans to other newspaper websites – and asked third parties to register their interest.

The reaction

Welcomed by its launch partners (The Telegraph described the deal as ‘a step in the right direction’) – the plans were quickly denounced by commercial rivals ITN:

“The BBC’s plans to offer free video content to newspaper websites risk undermining the demand for content from independent news providers, potentially undercutting a very important revenue stream,” said ITN CEO John Hardie in a release.

“The pressure on commercial news suppliers has never been greater which is why ITN has led the way in opening up valuable new lines of business, and the BBC’s latest move risks pulling the rug from under us.”

According to a MediaGuardian report, News International says the arrangement is far from a ‘free deal’ for the papers, but rather free marketing for the BBC, which will lead to less diffentiated content on newspaper websites in the UK.

Meanwhile the Press Association said it had spoken with the BBC Trust about the plans before they were announced and was hoping for a market impact assessment – a process it says cannot now be completed because of yesterday’s launch. In a statement given to both Press Gazette and MediaGuardian, a spokeswoman for the PA said there were other ways for the BBC to work with commercial rivals, such as by sharing facilities.

The PA launched its own video newswire for newspapers earlier this year and has said the BBC’s plans undermine investment in video by commercial players.

The questions

Arguably, providing a pool of news video for diary events/supplementary content could free up the titles’ staff to cover original content and produce more multimedia of their own. A similar argument to the PA’s recent announcement of a ‘public service reporting’ trial.

One question that should be asked – hinted at in Alick Mighall’s blog post on the matter – how will the commercial details be hammered out? Will the BBC add pre-roll ads for BBC programming to the clips; and what if a pay wall is erected in front of the video players?

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Jon Bernstein: What if the business model for news ain’t broke?

July 8th, 2009 | 16 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

In what may feel like a twist of logic too far, there are a growing number of non-media companies who are adopting the Fourth Estate’s digital business model.

That’s the ad-funded, free-to-the-consumer model.

You know the one.

It’s at the root of the crisis afflicting the newspaper industry around the world, an industry which is trying desperately to make money online. Or at least not haemorrhage it.

To believe the unholy trinity that is News International, Daily Mail and General Trust, and the Guardian Media Group, the media model is unworkable, unsustainable and it’s got to go.

The three are not sure if it should be replaced by paywalls, micropayments, subscriptions or something else entirely.

But what they are agreed on is that it cannot be business as usual. Because that business is going under.

So why do we find the likes of Facebook, Digg and the mighty Google – and perhaps soon Amazon- adopting the ad-funded model to support services and software.

Take Gmail. It’s not a media entity, it’s email, but it is ad-supported.

One answer is that that advertising is the last, desperate (and largely) failing attempt to generate some money, given nobody wants to pay for their products. In short: free reigns.

On that latter point, Wired’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson is likely to agree.

His new book ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price’ – appropriately available to read and listen to online without charge – celebrates ‘freeconomics’, but has a much more positive take on its effect on the business world.

The reason, he says, people are convinced that ad-funded won’t work is because they are applying the conventional rules.

Offline – in newspapers, magazines, billboards, TV and radio – advertising is predicated on scarcity not abundance. Ad sales people trade on ‘space’ and the less there is the higher the yield.

So when there is infinite space online, their greatest selling tool disappears.

Right? Wrong.

Anderson argues that there is another kind of advertising which is epitomised by Google’s text ads:

“Google doesn’t sell space. It sells users’ intentions – what they’ve declared to be interested in, in the form of a search query.

“And that’s a scarce resource. The number of people typing in ‘Berkeley dry cleaner’ on any given day is finite.”

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt – admittedly a man with a vested interest – estimates that the potential market for online advertising is $800bn.

“That’s twice the total advertising market, online and off, today,” notes Anderson.

So why is his tone at such odds with that of the media he is writing about?

Perhaps it has something to do with the production-cycle of book publishing. This book was in train before he had even finished writing the much-admired The Long Tail.

Clearly much of his thinking predates the collapse of Lehman Brothers which sealed our current economic fate.

His penultimate chapter, presumably added very late in the day and titled ‘Coda: Free in a Time of Economic Crisis’, is an acknowlegement of that, although not a denunciation of his core argument.

Just maybe, it’s the down-in-the-mouth media owners who are out of time, not Anderson.

Maybe this rush to find other ways to monetise will be a passing phase and when the economy picks up so too will online advertising revenues.

After all, what’s the alternative?

Pay walls may work for niche information but not for mainstream news and exclusives. That’s something that even the Wall Street Journal, poster child of the paid model, accepts.

Interviewed earlier this year its executive editor Alan Murray said:

“Look, if it’s a big news story, if we report a takeover and – we could hold that behind the pay wall. But if we do, BusinessWeek or someone else will simply write a story saying ‘The Wall Street Journal is reporting x’ and they’ll get all the traffic. Why would we do that?

“So if it’s that kind of a big, broad-interest news story, we’ll put it outside the pay wall and go ahead and take the traffic ourselves, thank you very much.”

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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